CHARLOTTE – The Panthers fielded several new starters due to injury Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons, but a change at cornerback came by way of coaches' decision.
Second-year cornerback Josh Thomas started the first game of his career opposite Captain Munnerlyn. Thomas took the place of rookie Josh Norman, a fifth-round draft choice who had started the previous 12 games.
"We wanted to see what Josh Thomas could do in a starting role," Panthers head coach Ron Rivera explained.
Rivera said the decision – based largely on Thomas' physical approach – was made during the week of preparation for Sunday's game.
"The biggest thing I see in Josh Thomas is his physical play. He's very physical, almost at a point where it gets himself in trouble. The Kansas City game is a great example. He was overly aggressive there," said Rivera, recalling Thomas' unnecessary roughness penalty against the Chiefs. "But I like that in his nature, and I wanted to see what he could do in a starting role."
The coaching staff also gave cornerback James Dockery an extended opportunity.
Dockery, a second-year corner who signed with the Panthers in late October, saw significant action for the first time this season and finished third on the team with six tackles.
"The underlying message there is it's about seeing who can make plays when you get opportunities," Rivera said. "That's what we're looking for."
The coaching staff will continue to take that approach through the remaining three weeks of the season.
"We're looking at a lot of different combinations," defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said, "and it will be a coaches' decision moving forward."